Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

extension of leave to remain

Part of Coronavirus Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 23rd March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 9:15 pm, 23rd March 2020

I would like first on this occasion to pay my respects and put on record my thanks to our brave NHS staff, our key workers and everyone in our nation playing their part in combating the covid-19 outbreak, and also my advance thanks to the police, who have been given extra responsibilities by the Prime Minister this evening to police people’s social distance when they go out.

I will not be moving my amendment, but instead thank the Government for their amendment, which actually strengthened my proposal. However, it is still important to say a few words about that. I have been truly heartened by the cross-party support that I have received in this process from every part of this House. It really does demonstrate how, at times of crisis, democracy can work and can respond positively to the concerns out there in the community. I would like to say thank you for that spirit of unity.

This truly is a difficult time for everyone in our nation. They are not normal times with today’s emergency Bill. We know how life as we know it will have to change, and the origins of this Bill have caused huge distress to religious communities, especially those of Muslim and Jewish background. Death is a sensitive time for everyone, and losing a loved one is difficult for us all. We all want dignity in death for our loved ones, and the idea that, in extreme circumstances, when capacity issues arise, the deceased would have to be cremated was something hard to bear, especially for those from the Muslim and Jewish faiths, which strongly oppose cremation. I further thank the Minister for clarifying in the assurance and the guarantees that she has just given that nobody will be cremated against their wishes.

The aim of my amendment was to give, in such difficult circumstances where capacity issues arise for local authorities, further legal protection and to ensure that the next of kin and the relevant faith institutions were consulted, in order to provide added support and protect the deceased from being cremated. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) and for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and the hon. Members for Wycombe (Mr Baker), for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) and for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for co-sponsoring my amendment, and the more than 110 cross-party MPs who formally showed their support. I also thank the all-party group on British Muslims for its tireless work behind the scenes, as well as community organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, Wifaqul Ulama, the British Board of Scholars and Imams, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I thank individuals such as my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood, who could not be here tonight; Qari Asim MBE, the adviser to the Government; Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, Vakas Hussain, and all those individuals and organisations who played a huge role silently in the background, influencing and putting in tremendous effort to work through this process. I have never done a campaign like it in 24 hours. I must also put on the record my thanks to Joseph Hayat of British Muslim TV for doing the one-minute video, which was absolutely amazing.

I also thank the Government and many in the Conservative party for their contributions. Lord Tariq Ahmad made efforts to ensure that concerns were seriously recognised, and my Muslim sister in the House of Lords, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, ensured that community nerves were calmed while conversations and negotiations with the Government took place. I am grateful to the Paymaster General and to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, Chloe Smith, for recognising the concerns of all religious communities and taking them on board through the amendment the Government tabled on this issue. Finally, I would like formally to thank all those from faith communities across the country who lobbied their local MP to support my amendment. I hear from some of my colleagues that their inboxes are rather full, so perhaps we lobbied a bit too much.

This campaign shows that, in times of crisis, we in politics, in Parliament and as a nation can work together to ensure that we support all citizens. From Scotland to Bradford West and right across the nation, faith communities play a vital role as the fourth emergency service, providing food, medicine and other necessities to those most in need. The Bradford foundation trust in my constituency has developed a coalition of more than 50 local businesses and 30 voluntary and community sector organisations, with support from Bradford4Better, to support our local authority during this difficult time. While faith communities are playing such a vital role, we must not neglect the rights of their deceased. That would have been a grave injustice.

Government amendment 52 recognises those rights and provides legal protection for the deceased of Muslim and Jewish communities, requiring their wishes and faith to be shown due regard, to prevent cremation. In some ways, it is clearer and goes further than my amendment. It provides protection to those from faiths where people choose to be buried and to those who choose to be cremated. I therefore do not press my amendment 66 and will support Government amendment 52 to provide this much-needed addition to the Bill.